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Ted Gurr ’57

Ted Gurr Reading

In the 1960s, political violence was not a field of study in political science. Ted was a major force in legitimizing the study of political conflict and instability, emphasizing the importance of social-psychological factors and ideology as root sources of political violence in his 1970 book, Why Men Rebel. He was also a proponent of cross-national statistical research designs, and his best-known data set, Polity, is still widely used in political science research.

He was born in Spokane and majored in psychology at Reed, where he wrote his thesis, “A Study in the Attainment of Abstract and Thematic Concepts,” with Prof. Leslie Squier [psychology 1953­–88] advising. He then studied at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and earned a PhD in government and international relations at New York University.

As a recently minted PhD, he codirected the academic staff of the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence, created by President Lyndon Johnson following the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy. The resulting volume, The History of Violence in America, became a New York Times best seller in 1969.

Ted received the Payson S. Wild Chair appointment in political science at Northwestern University, and served as head of the department. Following the death of his first wife, he left Evanston and joined the faculty at the University of Colorado in Boulder, where he chaired the political science department and was director of the Center for Comparative Studies.

Joining the faculty at the University of Maryland, he initiated a research project that analyzed and monitored the status and conflicts of 283 politically-active minority groups throughout the world, titled Minorities at Risk. Still in operation, MAR seeks to identify where the groups are located, what they do, and what happens to them. It contributes to the understanding of conflicts involving relevant groups by providing information in a standardized format to aid comparative research.

Ted wrote or edited more than 20 books and monographs, including Peace and Conflict 2010, coauthored with Joseph Hewitt and Jonathan Wilkenfeld.

He is survived by his wife, Barbara; his daughters, Lisa and Andrea; his stepson, Timothy Gribben; and his brother, David.

Appeared in Reed magazine: June 2018

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